Tonight my role model, mentor and friend, Rev. George Pauley, came to my church to preach. He is nearly 98 years old, and his health recently has been shaky. A couple of months ago he was scheduled to speak, but had to cancel at the last minute due to being hospitalized. With the help of some close friends, he is now visiting churches again and sharing words of wisdom from his decades of fruitful ministry. I don’t know of any West Virginia Baptist minister who has led more souls to Christ and baptized more individuals than Rev. Pauley. Churches have grown and flourished under his leadership.
Rev. Pauley led my father, my mother and me to Christ, and baptized each one of us. When it came time for me to attend college, I was insistent that God was leading me to Oral Roberts University. Rather than discouraging me from attending a charismatic school, as many conservative Baptist pastors might have done, he encouraged me to follow my heart. Later when I was struggling with an enormous emotional upheaval in my life at age 20, Rev. Pauley helped me to identify it as God’s call to preach and to enter pastoral ministry. He mentored me through the licensing and ordination process of becoming a minister. He hired me for my first ministry position as his pastoral assistant, before I had even begun any formal education. When I was uncertain as to where to attend seminary, he pointed me in the direction of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. There I obtained a Master of Divinity degree and returned several years later for a Doctor of Ministry degree.
Tonight as Rev. Pauley came to my church to preach, I was unsure what to expect. I remembered the fiery, passionate preaching of years ago, but would it be a struggle for him now? I knew of other churches having him to do a devotional, or to be interviewed before the congregation by a pastor. I had asked him however, to stand and to preach. Would it be too much for a man nearly 98 years old? My concerns were quickly put to rest as he stood and began sharing with the group that had gathered at First Baptist Church of Nitro. He immediately engaged the crowd, moving and inspiring them deeply with a message of faith and hope from God’s Word. He spoke often of heaven, and his confidence in Christ that he will be there. He led the group in singing “It Is No Secret What God Can Do,” which was amazing given the fact that he has grown completely deaf over the past several years. Everyone was touched. His 40 minutes seemed like only a moment – his words were timeless as he spoke them from the edge of eternity.
When the service had concluded and everyone was offering gestures of love and appreciation, he pulled me to one side. He said, “David, there is something very important God has laid on my heart to tell you.” Someone else then came to greet him, and he commented that we could talk at another time. I thought, “Another time? Given your age there might not be another time!” A note was scribbled that I would like to hear what he had to say right now, and he agreed to meet with me one-on-one.
As we took two seats facing one another in the privacy of a nearby classroom, I sat on the edge of my chair, eager to hear what this seasoned man of God had to share. He then began explaining how important it is to reach the children of the community for Christ, to find adult members in my church who can befriend them and build relationships with them. He made the same point about the teenagers, saying they need to be reached and discipled while they are young. When they are older, he said, it is often too late. He recalled specific obstacles he had overcome in getting churches to support the evangelism and discipleship of children and youth. He was convinced from his own experience that the Lord will do great things to reach younger generations if only we will trust Him to do the work and to provide abundantly. As he prepared to leave, he pointed his finger, looked me straight in the eye and spoke three parting words of advice that I will never forget: “Don’t short-change God!”